Pre-season, this derby was billed as the season defining game for both teams. The title race would be so close again that only a gnat’s breath would be able to separate them.
However, never have football ‘experts’ been so wrong. City have stumbled whilst United have stepped up and obliterated the rest. But, as with all derbies, this doesn’t mean the fans care less about this edition of the Manchester derby. Both sets of supporters are still desperate for the sweet elixir of victory.
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Football fans may be many things from absurd to zealous but somewhere in between does not sit forgetful.
On the last day of last season as United trudged off the Stadium of Light pitch in the knowledge they’d just been pipped to the title by arch rivals City, Sunderland fans rejoiced and celebrated like it were them who’d just won the title. That hurt the players (Giggs has noted it as the lowest point of his glittering career), the gaffer who remarked at the time that the experience was ‘surreal’ and of course the fans who, quite rightly, were angered and gutted in equal measure.
Noon on Saturday sees United return to the scene as troubled Sunderland face-up to the reality that Martin O’Neil and his fairly expensively assembled Black Cats are well and truly involved in a relegation dog-fight to remain in a league their opponents are walking away with……are you still laughing at us Sunderland?
If you’ve been following our previews over the last few months you’ll know we lend a hand to Betegy (our favourite football predictions website) by highlighting their predictions for all United fixtures. So far the site has achieved a 92% strike rate with just Spurs deterring United from all three points in their last 11 league outings.
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United welcome managerless Reading to Old Trafford on Saturday for the second time in four weeks hoping to make it six league wins in a row and take another step toward recapturing the Premier League title.
Reading arrive with, I guarantee it, huge intrepidation knowing United have just suffered a massively disappointing week with the loss to Real Madrid and the hapless capitulation against Chelsea fresh in their minds and an eagerness to start afresh putting those memories behind them. That spells danger for Reading, beware the wounded beast!
Unbeaten in the league since November, United find themselves hot favourites to produce a performance akin to that of ‘Sprinter Sacre’ at Cheltenham this week. He won by 19 lengths and Betegy suggest United could win by an equally large margin.
United are without Paul Scholes and Phil Jones for tomorrow’s visit from a team that sprung a surprise inflicting United’s last league defeat back in November 2012. Since that 1-0 away defeat at Carrow Road, United have notched up 13 wins, 2 draws but not a single reverse; conceding a mere 14 goals, bagging 30 along the way and keeping a cleansheet in their last 3 fixtures. It could be therefore be said United are in good form!
Historical form points to nothing more than United collecting all three points. Norwich did the unthinkable between 1986 and 1989 and won at Old Trafford 3 out of 4 years at a time when United under Sir Alex were finding their feet. Twenty-plus years on and Sir Alex knows a repeat of one of those results has to be avoided despite the doubtless need to make changes ahead of Tuesday’s…….ssshhhhh, don’t mention Tuesday.
Betegy hit the post last week with their prediction of a United 1-0 win, I was much happier after predicting a United win by 2 two clear goals. This week Betegy go with a 2-1 United win in a repeat of the 2004 scoreline when Alan Smith scored this cracking volley.
The fixtures are coming thick and fast with United producing result after result at crucial moments and looking sharper by the week. This weekend’s trip to Shepherds Bush in West London to face QPR is yet another chance and yet another crucial moment United need to capitalise on.
Sitting pretty twelve points clear of our closest rivals, United kickoff almost 24hrs ahead of City who face a very tricky looking match at home to Chelsea, by the time they get underway United could be a nerve inducing FIFTEEN points clear.
History and form are on our side and I can’t see us slipping up although it won’t be straightforward. RedRants’ recommended prediction site – Betegy – sees this going United’s way too, predicting a 1-0 win to impound yet more pressure on QPR, Harry Redknapp, Manchester City AND the best manager in England….Roberto ‘he’s definitely cracking up’ Mancini.
With a trip to Real Madrid looming in midweek I hear people suggesting Everton at home on Sunday afternoon is hardly the ideal preparation and that United would’ve wished for a different fixture.
In my opinion it’s the ideal fixture, it concentrates the mind, releases the players thoughts from wandering to Wednesday thus not allowing any complacency to creep in. Imagine a visit from Reading or Fulham? Imagine the temptation to field a weakened team against one of those? It’s happened before and we’ve come unstuck (I’m thinking back to Bolton at home two seasons running). There’s no doubt Sir Alex will make a few changes but, after what happened last season, he and his troops will surely be looking for some semblance of revenge and strengthening their ever increasing grip on the league title.
With Betegy giving Everton a calculated 36% chance of scoring on Sunday, United may well need to continue their impressive scoring to out-do a physical Everton side determined to challenge for a top four spotcome the end of the season.
We’ve been beaten there before. We’ve made complacent errors away from home at crucial stages of a few seasons. This season it’s obvious that everyone connected with Manchester United learned a huge lesson last season when suffering the painful finale of losing the title to local rivals, City.
Everyone’s talking (now more than ever) about how every fixture from now until the end of the season is crucial and about the need to avoid complacency. If United do slip up between now and May it won’t be for the lack of trying or a presence of complancency. No one’s letting anyone forget last season or the complacency that crept in.
Back-to-back Premier League defeats at Craven Cottage in March and then December 2009 have blighted United’s fairly decent record there, but with just one less draw  than wins  there in the last 11 fixtures, are Betegy right to give United a 45% chance of winning? Are the bookies selling their punters short offering United at a mere 1.57?
Make no mistake, tomorrow night should not be taken for granted for a minute, although many will. Think Wigan away last season, think Everton at home. These are games we (and I’m sure the team) will find themselves constantly reminding each other of as the season draws to what will hopefully be a title winning close.
Tonight United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford knowing a win could extend their advantage back to seven points after local and title rivals City slipped to a meagre 0-0 draw at Loftus Road last night.
Despite United’s history of excellent looking results against Southampton (unbeaten in their last 17 league matches at OT) since 1988, Southampton have been known to spring the odd surprise on United and rarely give them an easy game. In fact, Southampton have failed to score at OT just five times in those 17 matches Betegy accordingly make United 52% favourites to take all three points with a both teams scoring.